As part of its mission to ensure that oil and gas companies are prepared to respond quickly and effectively to an offshore oil spill, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement held a Government Initiated Unannounced Exercise (GIUE) on May 24, and an equipment deployment June 1, to assess an operator's ability to activate its Incident Management Team in Houston and carry out the procedures described in its approved oil spill response plan.

“One of BSEE’s top priorities is to ensure oil and gas companies can respond to offshore oil spills effectively and as quickly as possible,” Eric Miller, chief BSEE Oil Spill Preparedness Division, said in a statement announcing the exercise. “BSEE conducts unannounced exercises on a regular basis to evaluate an operator’s oil spill response plan and gauge their ability to successfully accomplish objectives with a hypothetical oil spill scenario.”

The exercise required the operator, Equinor USA E&P Inc., to respond to a simulated discharge of oil resulting from exploration drilling activity in Walker Ridge block 316, about 167 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The scenario began with the operator receiving information from the drillship indicating they were having trouble preventing a blow-out from occurring at the well. About an hour after the exercise was initiated, a BSEE controller provided the operator additional information indicating that an uncontrolled discharge of oil was observed on the water below the drillship.

Except for regulatory notifications, all response actions were simulated during the exercise. The company was evaluated on its capacity to promptly mobilize a workforce and effectively organize a response. The company had to simulate an oil slick trajectory and develop a plan to secure the source of the spill to meet certain objectives for the exercise. Additionally, BSEE evaluated the operator’s Dispersant Use Plan, drafted by the operator during the exercise, to determine if it included updated monitoring requirements that were officially incorporated into the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan in January 2022.

"These unannounced exercises provide operators with a challenging but reasonable opportunity to demonstrate their response capabilities in accordance with the regulations and consistent with applicable contingency plan updates. The best time for an operator to discover any discrepancies or shortfalls in their preparedness posture is when responding to a simulated oil spill event, before an actual incident may occur.” said John Calvin, BSEE senior preparedness analyst, Gulf of Mexico Region.

Representatives from BSEE, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office coordinated and executed the exercise, which took about five months to plan.

Equipment deployment GIUEs are designed to give BSEE the opportunity to evaluate an operator’s access to necessary response resources and test the effectiveness, performance, and viability of oil spill equipment and the associated Spill Response Operating Team. This was BSEE’s seventh deployment exercise in the Gulf of Mexico conducted in fiscal year 2022.